Saudi Arabia has said its decision to break diplomatic ties with Iran will not affect efforts to negotiate peace in Syria and Yemen – where the two regional heavyweights support opposite sides.
Riyadh on Sunday severed relations with Iran after its embassy in Tehran was set ablaze during protests against Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr, who was put to death along with 46 other mostly Sunni convicts on terrorism charges.
Abdullah al-Mouallimi, the Saudi Ambassador to the UN, said on Monday that the row with Tehran “should have no effect” on attempts to end the wars.
“We will continue to work very hard towards supporting the peace efforts in Syria, in Yemen, wherever there might be a need for that,” he said.
“How is that going to affect the behaviour of Iran, we do not know, you will need to ask the Iranians for that,” al-Mouallimi told reporters in New York, accusing Tehran of not being supportive of attempts to find peace before this latest falling out between the two nations.
“They have been taking provocative and negative positions and lines, and as such I don’t think that the breaking of relations is going to dissuade them from such behaviour.”
Earlier, Iran’s foreign ministry said Saudi Arabia was using the attack on its embassy in Tehran as a pretext to fuel tensions.
“Iran … is committed to providing diplomatic security based on international conventions. But Saudi Arabia, which thrives on tensions, has used this incident as an excuse to fuel the tensions,” Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said in televised remarks on Monday.
Saudi Arabia is leading a military intervention in Yemen against the Houthis – Shia rebels who it says are backed by Iran.
The kingdom is also part of the US-led coalition bombing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from New York, said diplomats at the UN were concerned about the impact the fallout could have on the wars in Syria and Yemen.
“Despite those comments [by al-Mouallimi], the United Nations knows that both Iran and Saudi Arabia are key players in both these conflicts,” Bays said.
“And that’s why the UN envoy for Syria is now in Riyadh. He’ll be going on to Tehran and then, in the next few days, the UN envoy for Yemen will also be visiting the region.”
On Sunday, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon issued a statement criticising both the executions and the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Calls for restraint
The US government also expressed public fears over the escalating war of words.
“We do continue to be concerned about the need for both the Iranians and the Saudis to de-escalate the situation,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
“We are urging all sides to show some restraint and to not further inflame tensions that are on quite vivid display in the region.”
Turkey said that it hoped the tension would diminish “as soon as possible”.
“The region is already engulfed by a circle of fire, it can no longer bear bigger crises,” said Numan Kurtulmus, Turkey’s deputy prime minister.
“As a country which has friendly relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, we believe that both countries should show restraint.”
Some 3,000 people took to the streets of Tehran on Monday for a third day, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family.
In Iraq, where the Iraqi Foreign Ministry has condemned Nimr’s execution, thousands of Shia protesters in Baghdad demanded their government cuts ties with Saudi Arabia. Demonstrators also called on officials to reconsider the recent re-opening of the Saudi embassy.
But Bahrain, Sudan and the UAE have rallied to Saudi Arabia’s side, breaking off or downgrading relations with Iran in recent days.
On Tuesday, Egypt also backed the kingdom, denouncing the attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran as “unacceptable”.
During a visit to Riyadh, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Iranian behaviour following the execution of Nimr was tantamount to “intervening in the kingdom’s internal affairs”.